Maximizing Client Lifetime: What We Did Right (and Wrong)

Photo of author

Art Zabalov

Updated

Unless you’re one of those non-stop-acquisition-1-800-CLICKS-agencies that choose quantity over quality, finding clients is hard.

And retaining clients is often harder.

And yet we’ve been able to maintain a client lifetime of 22 months (22.25 to be exact, I did the =AVERAGE in Excel 🤓 )

Could it be longer? Sure. Am I still proud of it? Hell, yeah!

This is where I stop boasting and try to take an objective look at our client relationships and lifetimes and say what worked that helped us achieve it, and what we could’ve done better, listing everything I can think of.

What worked to improve our client lifetime

  • Being upfront and honest about expectations
  • Getting results
  • Being very responsive and communicative
  • Being data-driven
  • Being honest
  • Taking ownership of advertising efforts and looking out for the clients’ profitability
  • Being proactive
  • Being meticulous and ensuring regular quality control
  • Often doing more than required (going above and beyond)

What we could’ve done better

  • Working with the right clients (client-agency fit)
  • Low-hanging fruit optimization before/instead of full restructuring
  • Lack of additional services (losing clients to SEO, web development, etc.)
  • Linking platform-side results with clients’ backend
  • Engaging “dormant” clients or foreseeing dissatisfaction
  • Explaining the benefits of CRO and Landing page creation
  • Involving hands-on clients in decision-making

What worked to improve our client lifetime

Being upfront and honest about expectations

Transparency is key to building long-term relationships with clients. This means clearly outlining the scope of work, timelines, and deliverables, as well as any potential challenges or risks (looking at you, funnel optimization)

Getting results 

At the end of the day, the most important thing is getting results and if we couldn’t deliver, we’d never get past 1 year in CLV. This means measurable, business goal-related results, not vanity metrics (saying this feels like old news, but I still keep seeing advertisers who focus on impressions, reach, and page views)

Being very responsive and communicative

Communication is 50% of success. This doesn’t come from a book or a motivational speech but from experience and countless times trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. We’ve seen bad communication break relationships before they even started and good communication sustain relationships for years even when the agencies involved didn’t achieve any notable results.

‍Here’s what’s worked for us – regular calls for human interaction, quick answers to clients’ questions, regular reporting, and proactive contact to inform of major changes/results/ideas. The frequency should obviously be adjusted to the client’s needs.

Being data-driven

When we started, some decisions were based on general best practices, platform-provided information, and yes, gut feelings. With time, experience, and a copious amount of testing, we’ve learned to trust and rely only on data (taken with a grain of delayed attribution, false positives, and iOS changes). It’s also why we introduced A/B testing 🙂

Being honest 

Do we occasionally get bad results? Yes.

Do some of our A/B tests cause dips in performance? Yes.

Do some of our CRO suggestions end up hurting conversion rates? Hat-trick!

But honesty about all of these (and timely communication) has always helped us keep our clients assured that we’re doing everything we can to improve and fix the situation. In other cases, honesty kept us from increasing our scope (and fee) but saved clients thousands of dollars in wasted ad spend (No, your enterprise B2B SaaS will most probably not see good results from TikTok Ads).

Taking ownership of advertising efforts and looking out for the clients’ profitability 

We strive to “own” our clients’ advertising, taking it off their plate, and caring about it as we’d care for our own campaigns. This involves taking cautious approaches at times, suspending underperformance, scaling down budgets to improve CPAs, and scaling up when we’re confident in profitability. By putting our clients’ profitability first, we ensure that they see additional value in our services and continue to work with us over the long term.

Being proactive

We don’t just wait for our clients to come to us with problems – we are proactive in identifying potential issues and addressing them before they become bigger problems. Same with new strategies and ideas – we make an effort to regularly go through our advertising efforts, perform competitor research, and identify new areas worth exploring (be it targeting, new channels, creative approaches, etc.).

Being meticulous and ensuring quality control

Most of the clients I’ve audited had no idea of the scale of wasted spend in their accounts. Wasted spend that was often generated by gaps in the review process and a lack of quality control. Complete control over wasted spend is impossible, as often you don’t know if an effort pans out before the campaign has spent enough (delayed attribution is one of the factors), but over the years we’ve learned to minimize it as much as possible with frequent optimizations, double and triple checks, client approvals, and monthly audits of our own efforts.

Often doing more than required (going above and beyond)

Having an overly general scope often leads to mismanaged expectations and we’ve learned it the hard way. For years now, we’ve made sure to make our scopes detailed and limits specific. However, we’ve still tried to help our clients in any way we could, especially with things in any way related to our efforts, where we had the necessary experience and tools to do it. Things like marketing/general strategy suggestions, website tweaks, software recommendations, and so on. This helped position us as a partner, not just a single-focus contractor.

What we could’ve done better

Working with the right clients (client-agency fit)

It took us some time to realize who our best clients were and who we could help the most, so we ended up working on product launch campaigns, small-budget-high-expectations campaigns and accounts with no marketing diversification. 

‍While we still don’t have a preference for any particular industry, we now do due diligence on every client’s marketing and business results and make sure we’re the right fit, before we take on any work. It’s also why we only work with a handful of clients at a time.

Low-hanging fruit optimization before/instead of full restructuring

For a while, we kept doing “complete account rehauls” for new clients. A practice from the days of granular optimization – when it was easier (and more effective) to start from scratch and reorganize everything, and didn’t instantly pick up on platform changes that made automation and aggregation king. 

‍In some cases, we may have been too quick to recommend full-scale restructuring of our clients’ advertising campaigns, when low-hanging fruit optimization could have been a more effective and efficient approach. By focusing on quick wins and making incremental improvements, we could have achieved significant changes quickly while minimizing disruption and cost.

Losing clients to full-service offers (including SEO, web development, etc.)

We only do one thing – ads. It’s helped us focus and polish our expertise, but it’s also been the reason some of our client relationships were cut short. We simply couldn’t beat offering SEO and web development on top of ad management, regardless of how much superior our ad management was (in my humble opinion). 

* We’ve since partnered with a number of specialists to close that gap.

Linking platform-side results with clients’ backend

All ad platforms attribute data in their favor. In hindsight, we could have done a better job of linking platform-side results with our clients’ backend data. 

‍We’ve been running ClickMagick for a while, and while it definitely helped to give more clarity, it hasn’t provided full accuracy due to its session tracking limitations. (although having researched other platforms, I don’t think 100% accurate attribution is achievable)

Engaging “dormant” clients or foreseeing displeasure

It’s not uncommon for clients to become disengaged or “dormant” over time, especially if there’s stability in results or a lack of significant improvements (sometimes, +5% month-on-month is all you can muster). 

‍On a few occasions, this also caused us to fall into a pattern of routine engagement and low proactivity, which could’ve cost us a few clients.

Explaining the benefits of CRO and landing page creation

This is a sensitive topic for me 🙂 I feel like I’ve been going on and on about the importance of CRO and landing page optimization for years now. 

‍It still holds true, and it’s still one of the areas we sometimes struggle to explain properly and convince our clients to invest more into.

Involving hands-on clients in decision-making

We understand that some clients like to be involved in every aspect of their campaigns, and even though we don’t like being micromanaged, we could have done a better job involving them in decision-making. 

‍Additionally, by educating these clients on our processes and the reasoning behind our decisions, we could have earned their trust and encouraged them to let us do what we do best.

We understand that some clients like to be involved in every aspect of their campaigns, and even though we don’t like being micromanaged, we could have done a better job involving them in decision-making. 

Additionally, by educating these clients on our processes and the reasoning behind our decisions, we could have earned their trust and encouraged them to let us do what we do best.

Why we care about clients’ lifetime

From my years working at tech startups, I learned the importance of repeat customers and lifetime value (no SaaS survives on one-time payments), so I made sure to apply this mindset to client-agency work.

I proactively ask myself what makes clients stay longer with us, put myself in their shoes, and try to learn from every experience. Having done over 100 manual audits, I also know where others came short and what causes most clients to terminate contracts (in most cases, it boils down to results and communication).

The reason we care about it so much is that:

A – we strongly believe in working with clients to fundamentally optimize and scale their advertising through testing and refining and this takes time

B – the initial phase of every relationship can be a little chaotic and we enjoy the smooth sailing that comes after that – when we can build trust, settle into a groove, and start owning clients’ advertising

C – I don’t like sales. Yes, I know it’s not healthy for the business, but I’m a PPC geek at heart and I’d much rather spend my time discussing strategy, doing audits, brainstorming, and figuring out tracking than doing back-to-back sales calls.

Leave a Comment

Let's chat

Book a 30-minute discovery call

BOOK A CALL

This will close in 0 seconds